‘Contemporary globalization erodes nation-state sovereignty but does not undermine nationalism.’ Discuss.
In the course of contemporary globalization, supreme sovereignty of the nation-state as a legacy of the Westphalian system is definitely being challenged, but it is quite different with nationalism since it is not necessarily combined with statism.
A nation, as most commonly defined, is a group of people who share common history, culture, ethnic origin and language, often possessing or seeking its own government. In other words, a nation is an imagined unit of political entity that shares certain “identities.” And according to John Breuilly, nationalism is the idea that the world is divided into nations which provide the overriding focus of political identity and loyalty which in turn demands national self-determination. Even though the modern sense of nation-statehood was born with 1648 Peace of Westphalia, major nationalist movements of our understanding can be traced back to the end of WWI and the interwar period. An idealistic tone of self-determination and despair-driven totalitarianism that swept the era consolidated nation-state’s political stance in international relations, ricocheting way beyond the end of WWII. Therefore, one can conclude that a nationalist movement is an ideological or political effort to equate the boundary of a state with that of a nation (i.e. one state, one nation).
However as Breuilly mentions, there are two types of nationalism. One is state-strengthening, and the other is state-subverting. State-strengthening nationalism can be related to civic nationalist ideology, since it values the loyalty to state and equates it with national identity. Under state-strengthening nationalism, the state is given the top moral priority and legitimacy. This is exactly the idea that has been empowering nation-states until today. On the other hand, state-subverting nationalism is about separating from the existing state and creating a new one, or at least trying to achieve autonomy within the state that does not satisfy one’s nationalist sentiment. It is closely related to ethnic nationalist ideology, in a sense that perceives ethno-national aspects more essential than the sovereign rights of the state. (State-subverting nationalism can also be said to base on civic nationalism, because it is unarguably true that most nationalist goals have been creating their own unit of nation-state.)
Within these definitions, what sense can be made out of globalization and nationalism? Globalization is not merely a process of integration, but also a process of strengthening local identities. It is true that the advance of information technology and promotion of free trade and free capital movements reduced the significance of nation-state’s role in international relations; however, what about the nation or nationalism itself? According to Thomas L. Friedman, globalization is both the Lexus (common drive for prosperity and development) and the olive tree (desire to retain identity and traditions). In this sense, globalization did not erode the nation or nationalism at all; on the contrary, it reignited them. Globalization makes room for non-state actors (often minority ethnic groups) to express their multicultural demands or nationalistic sentiments in the open so that the whole global community can ponder on them. Of course, it is not exactly the same nationalism of the 20th century, at least in the criteria of creating or consolidating nation-states.
Then, what will or should happen next? It is unlikely that nationalism in a broad sense will perish in the near future. And it is a good thing actually. Even though the role and power of nation-states are being questioned and challenged, it does not necessarily affect the “nation”. Because whether it is represented in the form of a unitary state or not, it is still a major unit of culture and identity. Maybe this is why “the United Nations” was named that way, despite the fact that it actually means “States” rather than “Nations”. I personally believe that tragedies of 20th century and early 21st century were caused only because nationalist movement meant equating the state with the nation. One can argue that “productive nationalism” (i.e. not in the form of chauvinism or extremism) can help promote multiculturalism and create international consensus about respecting ethno-national autonomy of one another. So, free Tibet.